Gods or sinners

As a writer, when you’re building a world and learning about your characters, you’re thinking about a lot of things. Do you ever think about how your characters perceive the world? How they process information?

I’ve been reading a book called The Error of Truth that discusses the difference between changing what one knows versus changing how one perceives the world. It takes a stroll through history, pointing out times when human perceptions massively shifted – such as when people shifted from being hunter-gatherers to planting seeds and staying in one place. It happened most recently when people began to quantify the world.

One of the stories the author tells is about the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755, where a devastating earthquake was followed a few hours later by a large tidal wave. Instead of accepting it as a mysterious event beyond their control, they began to process the event using reason.

This change in how people process large-scale catastrophes didn’t come out of nowhere – it was influenced by the ‘Age of Reason’, that changed how people perceived and processed the world. (This could be an amazing novel – setting it during the Lisbon catastrophes of 1755, and the aftermath as people begin to process what happened in a different way. Anyone want to write it? I’d love to read it.)

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Outline this.

I had a day off, and spent it drafting an outline.

I’ve never been one who was able to write to an outline. My stories like to go off on little weekend retreats without telling me then come back and start ordering me around with the pride and swagger of a newly hatched adolescent. Mostly they have no idea what they’re talking about, and refuse to listen to reason.

But when I try to force them to go in a certain direction, I always end up watching the story collapse in on itself.

I found that an important part of the writing process is figuring out your writing process. You only do that by writing.

Let go of the idea that the first thing you write will be the first thing you publish. For many people, it takes a while to get into your stride – to find your voice, your style, and how you work best.

Take classes and seminars and talk to other writers.

Then go home, forget everything you were told, and just figure out what works for you.

What works for me is this: Free write a loose first draft. Do a quick first round edit, where a loose outline is made and the story is split into sections.

And then I use the loose draft as a template, and essentially write over it. I never, ever get attached.

Honestly, there’s no right or wrong way to write. There’s just your way. I had to listen to what other writers do and try on a lot of different methods before I found what works for me.

That’s part of why they say if you can imagine yourself doing anything else, then do it. There’s a self-discovery element to writing that tends to vacillate between exhilarating and “OMG I need therapy.”

Today, I had to do an outline, because I’m applying for something that requires submitting an outline. I’m pretty sure my story is going to rebel now. I’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll be missing, only to turn up again in a few more days with new haircut and a few tattoos, including one of a heart with an arrow through it that says “Outline this” in big, bold letters.

A message is not a story

As an independent editor/beta reader, I see a lot of writers fall into the message trap – they have something they want to say, something they feel is important, and they’re very passionate about it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – in fact, even if you’re a pantser (vs a plotter), you should be able to articulate what the core of your story is about. There may be more than one theme or message or question that you’re exploring, or there may be just one central message or theme.

The problem I see, especially with newer writers, is that they sometimes focus on the message instead of the story.

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